Autumn is in the air. Before long, entire landscapes will be awash in photogenic red, orange, and yellow leaves. But there’s more to fall photography than pointing and shooting, so we asked New England-based photographer Chris Daniele (@dirtandglass) for his best tips on taking pictures that do justice to the brilliant colors.
For Chris, few things are more exciting than chasing bright fall leaves around New England. Although his earthy Instagram feed evokes a perpetual sense of autumn, the hunt for these hues only lasts for a few weeks every year — but the condensed time frame makes him love the chase more.
In fact, his search for fall colors has resulted in some of his all-time favorite moments. One morning, while camping in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, he woke up at sunrise to go to Franconia Notch, only to discover that low clouds were rolling across the landscape and weaving through the trees. The clouds made the scenery look even dreamier than he had hoped for, and the magical experience has stuck with him ever since.
That moment reminded him that fall casts a new perspective on even the most familiar places. Thinking of it encourages him to set out on the chase, time and time again.
Chris views Instagram as a tool that helps him develop his creativity, rather than seeing the platform as just a template for his work. He knows that Instagram hosts thousands of fall photos every year, but by thinking outside the box and searching for lesser-known locations, he ensures that his images always stand out. And for beginners, he’s happy to share a few pointers.
First off, Chris recommends shooting during Golden Hour, as it makes the leaves appear to glow. Although Golden Hour occurs twice a day, he prefers early-morning shoots, when the mountains are often laced with fog and the people are few and far between.
Of course, it’s just as important to think about another aspect of timing: the pressing question of when the colors will be at their peak, something Chris tries to calculate with foliage maps. These guides show the leaves’ brightness over time and help him understand how an area usually looks during a given week. Knowing that thousands of people pour into New England in September and October, he begins planning his photo excursions and booking his accommodation months in advance.
Getting the perfect shot often comes down to making the most of your circumstances. If the brightest leaves have already fallen, Chris recommends coming up with a back-up plan — for example, photographing the leaves on the ground instead of on the trees. And while chilly autumn rain might discourage some photographers, Chris has realized that shooting directly after rainfall often produces the best images. At times like this, the darker-than-usual roads, dirt paths, and trees contrast sharply with the leaves, creating a vibrantly gloomy scene.
If you’re shooting portraits, Chris suggests coordinating your subject’s clothing with the surrounding foliage. By adding a scarf, a pair of rainboots, or another accessory to your photo, you’ll draw viewers in and make an ordinary portrait a little more exciting.
For classic nature shots, Chris says that it’s a good idea to look for patterns and lines in your environment. As you do so, you’ll bring viewers right into your images — whether you’re standing near winding roads, glassy lakes, or towering trees. In post-production, he recommends adjusting the individual color brightness to make the yellow and orange tones pop. (Adobe Lightroom users, try out the HSL tool!)
Some of Chris’s tricks might work well for you, while others might not. The most important thing is to get outside and experiment — after all, like snowflakes, no two autumn leaves are exactly alike. By learning the basics of fall photography and putting your own spin on your images, you’ll capture the gorgeous, unique shots that you’re hoping for.